When I became a high school science teacher, I chose this career path because I have always LOVED science and have especially had a heart for high school students (I volunteered with a ministry called Young Life for over a decade, and also coached a local high school dance team all through college). I knew from my teacher training program that a lot went into teaching other than JUST teaching. I would have to write lesson plans, grade tests, prep labs, and go to faculty meetings. What I HIGHLY underestimated was how parent communication would be a HUGE part of my job.
Parent communication was also something I received 0 training on in my undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, and 0 practice doing during my student teaching experience. It was the ONE part of the job that I went into my first year of teaching COMPLETELY CLUELESS about, and so unfortunately it became one of those things that I learned as a trial by fire, so to speak.
My initial strategy was to avoid parent communication at all costs, and deal with it when I absolutely had to. Unfortunately, this was not a tactic my admin really appreciated, and it resulted in a LOT of drama with parents throughout my first year teaching.
Over time, I learned a lot though about how to interact with parents and guardians in a MUCH healthier way, and now that I AM a parent, I have an entirely different perspective on parent communication.
If you’ve had issues with parents this school year or are like me, and just absolutely dread parent communication, this post is for YOU! I want to share with you 4 things to do differently in your approach to parent communication.
If your school year is wrapping up as you read these, make a note to apply these tips when your next term starts! If you are midyear and drowning in unanswered emails and voicemails, know that it is NEVER too late to implement changes for the good of you, your students, and your parents!
Parent Communication Tip #1: Be proactive from the beginning.
My BEST advice for improving parent communication is to BE PROACTIVE. Rather than AVOIDING parents, ENGAGE THEM! The sooner you start building a relationship with them, the sooner they will see that you care. This will lend them to feel less attacked and defensive if/when you DO need to reach out to them about an issue with their student.
I can also say from personal experience as a parent now, I WANT to hear from my kids’ teachers. Before having kids I was always afraid to “make a mountain out of a molehill” by reaching out too soon about something, and would instead wait until it had become a much bigger deal for me to reach out to the parent. This is the WRONG MOVE, teacher friend. 9 times out of 10 when I did this, the parent would say, “WHY AM I JUST NOW HEARING ABOUT THIS??”
Don’t do this to yourself, or them! Here are my favorite ways to be proactive:
- Reach out to parents FIRST THING at the start of the school year (this can be mass communication!) Continue reaching out weekly (see more below).
- Contact at the FIRST SIGN of any sort of issue. Nip it in the bud before it even can be classified as an “issue”.
- Initiate in-person parent conferences sooner rather than later. Parent communication goes SO MUCH BETTER if it can be done face-to-face. They can see that you are a human being and not just words in their inbox, they can be in their child’s learning space, and they can see your heart for their student’s success. Meanwhile, YOU can show them face-to-face how you are supporting their student and where the issues are arising. Everybody wins.
Parent Communication Tip #2: Reach out to ALL parents weekly.
As I mentioned above, one of my favorite ways to be proactive is to reach out to ALL parents weekly. I do this through mass communication. This can be a mass email, a mass message through your learning management platform, or a mass text through a 3rd party app. Do whatever works best for YOU and causes you the least extra work.
Keep this short and sweet. Highlight fun things you learned or did that week and any big or important due dates coming up. The point is to:
- Show you care.
- Be consistently present in their inbox (so it doesn’t feel weird or random when you DO have to pop into their inbox for a personal student issue).
- Eliminate potential future conflict when a parent may feel tempted to blame you for lack of organization, clarity, diligence, etc. This is your record.
Don’t spend a ton of time on this. I blocked off 20-30 minutes on Friday afternoons to send out my mass email blasts (1 per class, and copied and pasted for multiple periods of the same prep) and for reaching out to a few parents individually. Speaking of individual parent communication…
Parent Communication Tip #3: Connect with individual parents monthly and share the POSITIVE!
I know this seems like a LOT but hear me out! This can be super short and sweet. Just send them 2-3 quick sentences that show what you are observing in this student. The point is to be reaching out to them positively on a regular basis.
It builds rapport and relationships so that when you DO have to reach out to them about a challenge with a student, your voice is more likely to be heard and trusted. The default goes from defending the child to trusting the teacher.
If you have 100+ students at a time this will seem really overwhelming, so start with just trying to reach out once a quarter! Take the number of total students you have and divide it by 9 weeks. Then every week, reach out to that many parents. At the end of 9 weeks, every student’s parent will have been contacted once.
Keep a record of this! Click here to access my parent communication log freebie that I used in my own classroom to keep up with regular parent communication.
Parent Communication Tip #4: Set clear boundaries and STICK TO THEM.
If you are implementing my first three strategies for parent communication, then I want you to know that you should have absolutely NO PROBLEM setting clear boundaries with parents and sticking to them.
Stop checking your email more than once or twice a school day. Delete work email from your phone. DON’T answer emails or calls after school hours. These are VERY HEALTHY BOUNDARIES you CAN and SHOULD set if you are being proactive about parent communication on the front end through consistency. You can read more about why I think it is SO important to stop doing these things here.
Again, by doing these strategies you will feel WAY less guilt when you do set these boundaries and stick to them. You do not and SHOULD not be available 24/7 to students and parents. Teaching is a job and one that should not be encouraged to be done outside of 40 hours/week (because I know you aren’t getting paid overtime, and if you are, please hit me up with your school district name so I can submit an application ASAP.)
By setting boundaries with parent communication you will free up SO much time for all of the other responsibilities you have, AND be able to unplug and enjoy your time away from school so much more – and this is something I am incredibly passionate about helping teachers do more of!!
Want to learn more? Check out my virtual professional development course Secondary Science Simplified, a practical PD learning experience specifically written to serve secondary science teachers in simplifying every aspect of their teaching life so they can have more energy to focus on what they truly love – actually teaching – AND do all of it in only 40 hours a week!